A POUND OF FLESH – Roy Schreiber

Cast

Jessica – Woman in her early twenties
Shylock – Man in his late fifties to early sixties

Scene: A room in Shylock’s house in 16th century Venice. Shylock sits at a table stacked with coins. He dresses in a long black robe that has yellow wheel patches on the shoulder and a larger one on his chest. He sits at a table, counts the coins and records them in a notebook, writing with a black quill. A barrette style yellow hat lies on the far corner of the table. Jessica appears in the doorway and walks in. She is elegantly dressed and wears a necklace with a cross at the end.

JESSICA
I’m surprised you agreed to see me.

SHYLOCK
I’m surprised you asked to come back after you abandoned me. Stole from me.

JESSICA
I know you’ll find it hard to believe, but what happens to my father does matter to me.

SHYLOCK
Would you be surprised if I said I thought you had a strange way of showing it.

JESSICA
Jews and Christians both have a commandment to honor their father. I honor you.

SHYLOCK
You honor me by running off with a Christian and taking everything of value in the house you could carry.

JESSICA
What I did had nothing to do with how I felt about you.

SHYLOCK
Even if I had chosen to ignore what you did, we Jews are a small community here. What you do reflects on me.

JESSICA
I cannot live my life as though we inhabit the same body.

SHYLOCK
Jews have other ways of expressing their discontent that do not involve stealing. And marrying Christians.

JESSICA
I married for love. Not to prove any point.

SHYLOCK
Even though you marry that Christian…

JESSICA
Lorenzo.

SHYLOCK
Lorenzo. I still have hope for you.

JESSICA
That is not what I’ve heard. I’ve heard you consider me dead.

SHYLOCK
If you heard I went to the synagogue and had the rabbi declare you dead, you heard a lie.

JESSICA
Of the various things I thought you might do, that was never one of them.

SHYLOCK
Why?

JESSICA
Since mother died, I can’t remember you inside the synagogue. If you went in now to the rabbi about me, he would ask you to pay for the declaration.

SHYLOCK
He has already declared enough of my children dead. My Leah, too.

JESSICA
Perhaps if I had been a boy, things would have been different between us.

SHYLOCK
I gave you all the freedoms you could ever want. Just like a boy. God’s reward for this good deed? You met the Christian and became his wife.

JESSICA
If you had tried to lock me up, you were wise enough to know I would have escaped. But I must confess. I’m glad for your wisdom.

SHYLOCK
Enough of your flattery. Why have you come?

JESSICA
To offer you a proposal.

SHYLOCK
A term that implies money.

JESSICA
A proposal that involves money, among other things.

SHYLOCK
I’m listening.

JESSICA
I offer to give back mother’s turquoise ring in return for a favor, one that will insure you a handsome profit as well.

SHYLOCK
You begin your proposal by offering me Leah’s first gift to me, something that is already mine in return for a favor.

JESSICA
Here I play by your rules. You would say possession matters.

SHYLOCK
What is the favor?

JESSICA
Take the money Bassanio offers.

SHYLOCK
No.

JESSICA
You refuse his money in repayment of Antonio’s loan from you?

SHYLOCK
I will demand the alternative.

JESSICA
The pound of flesh.

SHYLOCK
A pound of flesh.

JESSICA
Flesh over money. I thought I knew you.

SHYLOCK
Do you know anything about Venetian law?

JESSICA
Why do you ask?

SHYLOCK
Because once you marry, all your worldly goods belong to your husband, not you. Before you married, they were mine.

JESSICA
Lorenzo agreed to let me use the ring in my proposal.

SHYLOCK
I presume he has a motive.

JESSICA
Bassanio and Antonio are his friends. Now, mine too.

SHYLOCK
So, of all the things you took, the two of you offer to return me Leah’s ring.

JESSICA
I know you treasure it.

SHYLOCK
And now you want to dangle the prospect of its return before me to get what you want.

JESSICA
As a young girl, I could never find a way to tell you what mattered to me. Now, perhaps, I have.

SHYLOCK
And you think playing the role of a bargaining thief will make up for all you’ve taken from me?

JESSICA
If you had arranged a Jewish match for me, how much would my dowry have cost you? My guess is even more than I have given Lorenzo.

SHYLOCK
When that so-called dowry is gone, do you really think this Christian will stay with you?

JESSICA
I am now a Christian. We married in a Christian church where marriage is a sacrament and lasts as long as we two shall live.

SHYLOCK
Your mother was a Jew. Therefore you are a Jew. You will always be a Jew. All the laws, Jewish, Christian, and Venetian, forbid Christians and Jews to marry.

JESSICA
You talk as if being born a Jew was the same as being born a black-a-moor.

SHYLOCK
Do you remember what happened when that black-a-moor general married a young Venetian noble woman?

JESSICA
Her father approved the match.

SHYLOCK
The black-a-moor strangled her.

JESSICA
A self-professed villain masquerading as his friend took advantage of him.

SHYLOCK
What kind of friends does your husband have?

JESSICA
Friends who wish him well.

SHYLOCK
And who among them wishes you well? A bankrupt forced to marry for money. A man who spits on me.

JESSICA
Friends who look for ways to bring joy and song into both our lives whenever they can.

SHYLOCK
Sing all the masses with them you want. Dance with them in a public square. You’ll always be a Jew. To these friends of his and to the rest of the world. And to me.

JESSICA
You’ve raised all of this to distract from the bargain I offer you.

SHYLOCK
No. I raise all of this in the hope I can awaken you from what you think is your dream. It’s really your nightmare.

JESSICA
With your demand for a pound of flesh, you will turn everything into a nightmare for everyone. Even you.

SHYLOCK
Why do you defend this merchant, Antonio?

JESSICA
For your sake as much as his.

SHYLOCK
His sake, as you put it, is what matters to me now.

JESSICA
He comes before your own interests?

SHYLOCK
This man has loathed and disrespected me from the moment we laid eyes on each other.

JESSICA
He’s your rival in business. You often get the better of him. Venetian merchants do not take such matters as if they were Greek philosophers.

SHYLOCK
If, as they say, business is business, I would have no complaint with him. But he always took his behavior toward me further than that. As he said himself, because I am a Jew.

JESSICA
He wanted to get under your skin, tempt you to do foolish things that would give him the advantage. If you go ahead with this trial, he will have what he wants.

SHYLOCK
No. He’s miscalculated. I will get under his skin.

JESSICA
Your reasoning mystifies me. Bassanio, the man who needed the money in the first place, has offered to pay you double the original loan. He now has a rich, clever wife and can well afford to pay. Why refuse him?

SHYLOCK
For me, Bassanio has nothing to do with this.

JESSICA
I thought profit from trade gave you genuine pleasure. How much more profitable than double can you expect?

SHYLOCK
Profit comes in many forms.

JESSICA
How is a pound of flesh profit?

SHYLOCK
I take it from a man who has kicked me, spit on me, has spoken evil and untrue things about me to anyone who will listen. Do you think others with whom I trade and seek profit will respect me if I behave like a Christian and turn the other cheek?

JESSICA
Surely everyone will respect a profit of double the original loan.

SHYLOCK
No, they won’t.

JESSICA
You seem very certain.

SHYLOCK
The world will call Antonio sly. Admire him. Say he makes another man feel guilty and pay off a loan that not legally his. Antonio would gain credit for paying nothing. I would gain no credit.

JESSICA
But you would lose none.

SHYLOCK
I need the Christians to fear and respect me or they will all behave like Antonio. I will have my pound of flesh from him.

JESSICA
You seem terribly confident that a Christian court will uphold a Jew.

SHYLOCK
I grant you, here in Venice, they make Jews wear yellow hats and badges. They even lock us in our houses at night.

JESSICA
You ignore their prejudices at your peril.

SHYLOCK
It’s all for show in the Christian world. In the end, they need us. As long they feel guilty about charging interest to one another, they need us. They need me.

JESSICA
I don’t see how that helps you in court.

SHYLOCK
The laws of Venice governing trade are for all, Christians and Jews. What if other Jews saw me treated unjustly? What then for the Venetians who need to borrow from them? From me?

JESSICA
But what if you’re wrong? What if the court finds a way to rule against you and still give the appearance of handing out justice?

SHYLOCK
We are no fools. They cannot play games with us and expect us to shrug our shoulders and go on as if they treated us fairly.

JESSICA
They are no fools either. Don’t underrate them. All it takes is one person to find a weakness in your case, and you are out your money. And your revenge.

SHYLOCK
No. I will get my pound of flesh and the respect and their fear that will come with it.

The End



I’ve written about a half dozen biographies and character studies. For example William Bligh, the victim of the Bounty mutiny and other unexpected setbacks, has been a particular interest for a couple of decades. That interest produced two books, The Fortunate Adversities of William Bligh and Captain Bligh’s Second Chance. It also enabled me to act as historical adviser and on camera participant in a British television program about Bligh.
Over the past couple of years, most of my creative focus has been on producing two plays, Happy Family and The Optimist, for radio/podcast. Happy Family is based on what happened to a group of working women in the 1970s when they sued a major corporation for equal pay and opportunity. Three NPR stations and a community radio station broadcast the show.
The Optimist is a satirical look at college professors. One campus radio station in San Francisco and one in Ontario, Canada broadcast this show. The HEAR Now festival awarded The Optimist their silver classification.
Filling in the blanks in The Merchant of Venice occurred to me after I read two plays, one good, the other not so good, that used Shakespeare’s play in ways far removed from the original.

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